The last time we did one of these was 2016 – that was a pretty fucking horrendous year as well, all things considered.
Much the same as then, in 2020 music has so far prevailed – once again being a source of comfort, empathy and a voice through an immeasurably difficult time. While nothing can undo the pain, suffering and loss so many of us have felt, we can attempt to take some sort of understanding from something that never fails us, when it seems everything else is.
This is Wax Music‘s 50 records of the year – so far.
50. Porridge Radio – Every Bad
“I’m bored to death, let’s argue” sings Dana Margolin on ‘Born Confused’, the opening track to Porridge Radio’s astonishing sophomore album Every Bad. It can never be said that the Brighton four-piece lack passion, and the vitriolic figure that Margolin is well known for cutting whilst on stage is the same pose that is being struck upon the new record. However, despite the album’s obvious focus towards anxiety and emotional confrontation, there’s a purpose behind its catharsis. “I don’t want to get bitter/I want us to get better/I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other” pleads Margolin during the closing climatic moments of album highlight ‘Lilac’. The candid lyric reveals the true intent behind Porridge Radio’s music: an unrelenting quest to seek connection and closure through dialogue. For this fact alone, Every Bad is one of the most essential listens of 2020 so far.
Dan E Brown
49. Hodge – Shadows In Blue
Filled with simmering euphoria-inducers and texturally exhilarating layers, the debut album of Bristol producer and plant aficionado Hodge is a glorious record – one that finds beautiful cohesiveness between a nurtured climate and jubilant late night elation. Evidently considered while retaining a sense of experimental frivolity – it’s a playful and therapeutic listen for any mood.
48. Body Count – Carnivore
Carnivore is an onslaught of politically-driven thrashy hardcore. Fronted by none other than Ice T, it’s the perfect example of the worlds of Hip Hop and hardcore yet again colliding in the most natural way. Songs like ‘No Remorse’, with the line “Fuck you I refuse to apologise” is an example of the group never being able to back down as a potent and unrelenting force to be reckoned with.
47. upsammy – Zoom
Embracing the less observed things in life – Zoom is the first album for Thessa Torsing under her upsammy moniker. It’s a courageous exploration of the juxtaposition between the natural and the mechanised – startling organic sounds coerce the stark, industrial beats Torsing crafts – conjoining in seamless correspondence for a gorgeously communicative record.
46. Code Orange – Underneath
Underneath is Code Orange’s most fearless work to date – an exploration into sonic manipulation through reverse-engineered guitars and use of industrial electronics whilst still retaining their brand of raw, discordant hardcore. The title track is a divisive yet brave undertaking through the use of ‘pop’ orientated structures, however it shows that Code Orange aren’t afraid of evolution within their sound, perhaps nodding to where they are going next creatively.
45. BC Camplight – Shortly After Takeoff
Following a series of albums that documented his deportation from the US, Brian Christinzio returns with what manages to be one of his darkest yet most comedic records yet. If what you crave is a heavy dose of glam rock accompanied by lyrics that veer from alcoholism, fatherly apparitions to Tame Impala diss tracks, without seeming laboured at any point, BC Camplight has you covered.
44. Emma Jean Thackray – Rain Dance EP
A physical, transcendent release that cements Thackray as one of the vibrant and progressive pillars of the UK Jazz community – in a matter of 16 minutes. A wondrously loose, invigorating listen – it’s emboldened by its desire to rigorously exhume the most substantial, refreshing elements of Thackray’s penchants and bleeds honesty and exuberance through its veins.
43. Khruangbin – Mordechai
The groove that 2020 needed. The Texan psychedelic trio have delivered an album that exceeds expectations. With embellishing vocals on standout tracks ‘Time (You and I)’ and ‘Pelota’, their sound has been fully realised and warrants your full attention. Standby for a head bop.
42. Josey Rebelle – Josey In Space
Josey In Space is more than a mix – it’s a statement of intent. It represents unwavering resilience through creativity in black culture while facing deep societal prejudice, alongside exploring the vibrant diversity within electronic music – syncing hot and heavy dub, drum-machine blasts of d’n’b with acidic, coercive deep house. It’s eye-opening and immersive.
41. Lyra Pramuk – Fountain
A stunning exploration of post-human comprehension – Fountain is an incomprehensibly tangible, somatic piece. Formed predominantly from the warping and metamorphosing of Pramuk’s voice – the album personifies the feeling of submergence, sinking within a physical and mental pool that shows you the very meticulous threads that keep us alive.
40. The Strokes – The New Abnormal
A long-awaited return from trusted favourites. Characteristic picky-riffs and pertinent lyrics drive the album throughout, subtly echoing the band’s earlier works yet offering what seems this time to be something slightly more experimental. It might be nearing two decades since their debut, but with The New Abnormal, The Strokes have proved that they’re just as relevant as ever.
39. Anna Burch – If You’re Dreaming
Anna Burch’s If You’re Dreaming is a record that attempts to drown out the silence of the post-party comedown. Written during moments spent on the road supporting her first album, the record feels at times like the satisfying sensation of sliding into your favourite jumper, or submitting to that seductive feeling of remaining in bed on an icy winters morning. Burch achieves such a cosy atmosphere by masterfully applying a minimalist approach towards production but rightfully makes sure that the space carved out isn’t just used as a way to simply unwind. A serious dose of introspection is spattered throughout the album, allowing Burch to tenderly deliver such lines as, “My perspective is skewed/Don’t know what to do” and “When the party is compulsory/I start getting down”. It’s the honesty of the record that makes it so endearing and establishes a relatability that will no doubt last for a long time to come.
38. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
The long awaited Miss Anthropocene gives us a glimpse into the futuristic, digitally-driven mind of Grimes. The album takes us from ambient and angelic vocals to harsh, club-ready beats – while conceptually exploring deeper meanings of the future of our planet and how we must adapt within this new digital age.
37. K-Lone – Cape Cira
Where there has been a truly copious amount of joyous ambient music to immerse yourself within of late – not many possess the singular authenticity that is harnessed within Cape Cira. A luscious, compassionate gift of storytelling found sounds and sparse, playful electronics – K-Lone allows us an escape within a much desired reality.
36. Lucy Gooch – Rushing EP
A beautifully considered collaboration of atmospheric choral expression, Rushing possesses the focused transcendental quality to feed you into a reverie and ensure you remain in the very present in equal measure. Seeking out the tranquil, droning qualities of analog synthesis – in Rushing Lucy Gooch provides a gleaming, primal remedy.
35. Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
On the acclaimed songwriter’s seventh full-length, Laura Marling strips her sound back to the bare essentials. A fitting accompaniment to the gentle yet rich narratives that form this album, Song For Our Daughter holds some of Marling’s finest work, acting as a soothing balm to the doom and gloom that prompted its early release.
34. Dana Gavanski – Yesterday Is Gone
Yesterday Is Gone, the debut album from Canadian Folk Singer Dana Gavanski, is one that gets richer and richer with each listen. From the stunning opener ‘One By One’ and standout ‘Trouble’, Gavanski asserts herself as a force to be reckoned with, up there with the likes of Angel Olsen and Aldous Harding in being a refreshing and empowering voice.
33. King Krule – Man Alive!
There’s always been a dark underbelly to Archy Marshall’s music. Yet on his third record as King Krule, there’s a certain sense that the depths of despair that were previously reached are being grappled and dealt with here. Sure, there’s still plenty of grit and murkiness across the record, but it feels as though Marshall is finally coming to terms with his issues, using those to grow as an artist for his finest work yet.
32. Fearing – Shadow
Fearing’s Shadow is another album to be added to the welcome onslaught of bands taking the sounds of the 80s and making it their own. An album of cold yet driving post punk, each song is haunting and expansive in their own right. James Rogers’ vocals are dark in their narrative, evocative and brooding, whilst the instrumentation of punchy rhythms, glistening guitars and teases of beautiful ambient textures create this false sense of serenity.
31. Little Simz – Drop 6
Created and performed solely by the multi-faceted Simbi Ajikawo, Drop 6 encompasses many of the emotions and vulnerabilities surrounding the lockdown. The 26-year-old rapper and instrumentalist showcases the depth of her abilities in this uncompromising EP that navigates the true nature of the current climate.
30. Dick Dent – Life’s Hard
A persuasive, amorous listen – Life’s Hard takes the yearning fascinations of Dent’s tender expression and blossoms them into wistful, evocative imprints in sound. Backed by spritely yet doting synth-pop, Dent takes the pining nostalgia of the New Romantics and moulds it through the isolated anxiety of the modern day.
29. Nazar – Guerrilla
Released through Hyperdub, Angolan/Belgian artist Nazar illustrates a musical exploration of the Angolan Civil War and his family’s attachment to it. Inspired by his father’s 2006 memoir as a rebel general, Guerrilla is a gruelling experimental album welding everything from field recordings to daring glitchy instrumentals.
28. Katie Malco – Failures
Jumping headfirst into the awkward and confusing process of self-analysis is Katie Malco. Failures is an assortment of memories taken from choice moments of her life – picked apart, dissected, and then reassembled into ten individual tracks of genuine introspection. Despite the impression of negativity conjured by the record’s title, its contents are anything but pessimistic; the one-two punch of album singles ‘Animal’ and ‘Creatures’ are both anthems for self-improvement and self-acceptance. With such honesty radiating from Katie Malco and her songwriting, it’s hard not to fall in love with everything Failures has to offer.
27. Beatrice Dillon – Workaround
A revitalising congregation of sound, Workaround dissects fragmentation and seamlessness – crafting a record that beams with melodic captivation and stark, exhilarating amalgamation. Forming itself a carousel around a 150bpm intrinsic piece, Dillon has created something unquestionably meticulous that gifts us with sensory liberation.
26. Agnes Obel – Myopia
The cinematic sounds of Agnes Obel protrude throughout Myopia, effortlessly blending haunting vocals with room-filling piano. Furthering her explorations with vocal experimentations on tracks like ‘Island of Doom’, Obel has created an album with the power to transport you to a place of sheer melancholic charm.
25. Bambara – Stray
Stray is Bambara’s further iteration of their 2018 release Shadow on Everything. Increasingly building upon their unique blend of Western infused noise rock, with reverb drenched guitars and imposing rhythms surrounding vocalist Reid Bateh – they weave in and out with dark, romantic imagery and narrative.
24. Sateen – Crystallized
Sateen recently blessed our ears and our dance floors with Crystallized, spanning floor-filling anthems and emotional ballads in just five tracks. The New York based duo brings disco back to its roots, extravagant instrumentals meet powerfully delivered vocals, creating the perfect tribute to 70s disco and NYC’s current Club Kid culture.
23. Sorry – 925
With 925, Sorry took their blithe wit and discerning consciousness and cemented themselves as having something interesting to say – even when they aren’t saying much at all. Honing in on their rackety, coarse temperament, the group deride their patent sense of cynicism to bring forth their inadequacies – capturing the never-fulfilled need for contentment through approval in the modern day.
22. Sega Bodega – Salvador
Sega Bodega’s Valentines Day drop Salvador deconstructed everything we knew about the London based producer. The strong assertive beats as seen on previous EP self*care were replaced with fragile tales of life and love, fusing his trademark glitchy electronics with R&B and pop aesthetics that any popstar would be proud of.
21. Wesley Gonzalez – Appalling Human
As gorgeous as it is heart-wrenching, the second album from Wesley Gonzalez plays out as a cathartic release of pent-up anguish soundtracked by city pop-inspired synths. While those might seem in stark contrast with one another, this pans out as being one of the most gorgeous albums of the year so far, further solidifying Wesley as one of the most effortlessly talented yet underrated songwriters in the business.
20. The Orielles – Disco Volador
There’s every chance that The Orielles’ Disco Volador will become the definitive soundtrack to human space travel in the not-too-distant future. An ambitious second album that really did shoot for the stars, The Orielles’ songwriting voyage into themes of interstellar exploration and the corporeal experience made for a mind expanding listen, and one that we won’t be forgetting any time soon.
19. Happyness – Floatr
Floatr is an expansive, whirling, lo-fi treat. On their third album, Happyness retain the grungey flair of previous releases, yet don’t seem overly indebted to dissonance – with some gentle atmospheric numbers amongst the fuzz, Floatr embraces a broad dynamic space that gives the record an attractively unique charm.
18. Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
Dark Matter shows Moses Boyd is not afraid to delve deep into the things that occur around him that produce the rawest emotions, and twist them into a powerful statement. Within the album Boyd moves far beyond the realms of jazz and into R&B, grime and hip-hop, incorporating musical styles that have influenced not only himself but also those around him.
17. Lecu – In Balance
Recorded as a form of healing through sound – with In Balance, Leo Cunningham has delivered an intuitive and nurturing piece of work. Capturing the wealth of space and uninhibited cadence of natural sound – Lecu provides an exuberant sense of adventure and excitement within fields and fields of untouched canvas.
16. Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline
Having made a name for himself with his 2016 conceptual masterpiece The Party, Andy Shauf has returned once again with a sombre showcase in how to tell heart-breaking tales over the course of an album. The Neon Skyline is never particularly flashy in its delivery, but the attention to detail in how both the songs and the narrative of a man hoping and failing to reconnect with an old lover manage to intertwine is some of the finest you’ll lay your ears upon this year.
15. Caribou – Suddenly
With lead single ‘Never Come Back’, Caribou’s seventh album generated itself a substantial buzz back in February, and rightfully so. Suddenly is playful, explorative and colourful in harmony, yet maintains a charming sincerity throughout. Dan Snaith’s vocals are delivered with utmost honesty at the forefront of the mix, with little to no additional effects – they’re vulnerable, reflective and raw.
14. Peel Dream Magazine – Agitprop Alterna
Peel Dream Magazine’s music is an outright rebellion against pop’s standardised norms. Whilst many songwriters reach for subjects that explore the emotive sides of the human condition, main songwriter Joe Stevens leaves such themes firmly on the shelf. Instead, Peel Dream Magazine looks towards the anthropological, casting a critical eye on society and pointing an admonishing finger at the corporations that attempt to exploit it. Such a cerebral approach may sound dull on paper, but when the ideas expressed are coalesced with Peel Dream’s motorik rhythms and coruscating wall of sound, the music becomes an exhilarating listen. Agitprop Alterna is an excellent addition to the band’s already fetishised canon of releases. The music may not have many soaring sing-along choruses – again, a deliberate contrarian choice by the band – but its meditative, all consuming approach makes for a thoroughly authentic experience.
13. India Jordan – For You
For You is a love letter to the self – a reassuring notion of pride in who you’ve become and the endless opportunities that stand awaiting in front of you having gotten to where you are today. Informed by growing up queer in Northern England – For You is Jordan’s attempt at documenting not only finding themselves through music, but not being able to naturally express how you feel through fear of subjugation. A euphoric, yearning collection that is ecstatic in its physical movement and playful, instantaneous stirring of different forms – India Jordan has not only provided some of the most reviving electronic music of the year, but has offered to be a voice of empathy and empowerment in grasping who you are.
12. Nicolas Jaar – Cenizas
Chilean-American composer Nicolas Jaar wants us to sit back, not relax and enjoy his haunting first record from this year. Cenizas (Spanish for Ashes) dropped at a moment of peak uncertainty. The world seemed a much darker place than we thought and an ambiguous foresight of the year loomed. Amongst the chaos, Jaar invites the listener on an hour long journey of loose, experimental forms and structures. From the drone opening of ‘Vanish’ to the glitchy layerings of ‘Sunder’ , it marks some of Jaar’s most intricate work to date. At the centre, ‘Mud’. A 7 minute piece of meditative yet unsettling work. The dichotomy of which evokes a sense of balance. A balance that can be unhinged at any moment. These textures and intricate, stimulating soundscapes can only be described as a masterclass in electronic music; a complete masterpiece worthy of your full attention.
11. Trash Talk – Squalor EP
Having released their 2012 album 119 on Odd Future Records and extensively collaborated and toured with hip hop artists, it comes at no surprise for Trash Talk to finally be working with producer Kenny Beats. You can hear the inspiration through the ruthless ‘Point No Point’, where suddenly halfway through it jumps into a grimy, manipulated sample of itself – another sign of Trash Talk further embracing the marriage of Hip-Hop and Hardcore – where both go naturally hand in hand in regard to sonic antagonism and vital social commentary. On ‘Something Wicked’, vocalist Lee Spielman – a violent assault within the mix – is fierce in his delivery, viciously chanting “I commit to total warfare, warfare, warfare, warfare, warfare“. Trash Talk never stray away from this general unforgiving brutality, as the eight minute and twenty three second EP charges on – Squalor is Trash Talk in their most unapologetically relentless form yet.
10. Princess Nokia – Everything Is Beautiful
Princess Nokia hit us with a surprise double release back in February, Everything Is Beautiful took the form of the much darker album Everything Sucks‘ innocent younger sister. Previous offerings from Nokia have spanned a range of emotions and themes, but this is her most vibrant, honest and upbeat work yet. The record is carried by her personal and raw lyricism, telling the story of her life and upbringing and the diversity in style pays a clear homage to her influences. Leading single ‘Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T.)’, a gospel pop banger, created high anticipation and set the celebratory tone for this feel good album.
9. Pottery – Welcome To Bobby’s Motel
I first became aware of Pottery one dreary morning in around mid-April. Lockdown had just begun, and at the time, it was pretty hard to imagine that it would ever end. Everything seemed uncertain, until suddenly, ‘Texas Drums Pt I & II’ popped onto my kitchen radio like a stick of dynamite and slapped me around the back of the head. Its cowbell driven rhythms shook me out of my stupor, and it wasn’t long before I had exhausted their limited discography several times over. When their debut album Welcome to Bobby’s Motel was released late last month, I was already sure it was going to be a firm favourite of mine, and I was not wrong. Think Talking Heads meets The B-52s on a rocket into outer space. Feel-good musical escapism at its best. Lovely.
8. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
It’s quite a feat for an artist to be able to produce five outstanding albums throughout their career, but to go as far as putting them out consecutively and for each one to be better than the last is truly extraordinary. With Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, Perfume Genius has achieved a career high with an emotionally powerful opus that fluctuates between the luscious dream pop tracks like ‘Jason’ – that have characterised much of his previous work – to choreographically inspired hits such as outstanding single ‘On the Floor’. It’s quite a dense record, with plenty to unravel in its deftly layered songcraft and frank portrayal of personal subject matters, but with so much to sink your teeth into, the payoff and ultimate experience of this record is one to be cherished.
7. NIGHTCRWLR – Let The Children Scream
Let The Children Scream is the haunting debut from NGHTCRWLR. Tranquil vocals switch to banshee-like screams of serene suffering, backed by the instrumentation of the beautifully violent sonic landscapes, industrial infused electronics and Hip Hop. ‘Nation Under Creep’, a catchy yet politically charged riot, is just a glimpse into NGHTCRWLR giving the listener a split second to breathe – through the welcome use of melody – before being thrust back into the hellish landscape that so defines this record.
6. Jockstrap – Wicked City
As a spiritual juxtaposition to their first EP Love Is The Key To The City, Wicked City is the industrial disquiet that lurks seedily amongst the shadowed gentrification and coercive hedonism. On it’s own, the EP is a furious diaspora of pop and avant-garde that once again proves the uncompromising promise of the duo – a sheer mind-fuck of popular music tradition and conscious conduction in experimentalism that coalesces into a succulent display of extravagance. Through the glistening playfulness of ‘Acid’, the mutated and venomous ‘Robert’ and the isolating transfiguration of its title track – Jockstrap present an exhibition of allure and malevolence – a staggering interpretation that shows their substance.
5. Pet Shimmers – Face Down In Meta
Any conversation about the Bristol music scene will inevitably feature comments on the strength of its creative community. As a city known nationwide for its strong collaborative spirit, it’s no surprise that a band like Pet Shimmers calls it home. Fronted by the wonderful Oliver Wilde, Pet Shimmers debut is a special record capturing the shared creative experience. From the thumping synths of ‘Super Natural Teeth’ to the twinkling melancholia of ‘Feels Hz’, there’s a sense of grandeur woven into the album’s fibres; something that could only of come from the seven precious souls responsible for its splendour trying to create something much greater than the sum of its parts. 2020 has already given us a lot to worry about, but Face Down in Meta was the beacon of hope we needed, gently reassuring us that when we all come together, magic can happen.
4. Julianna Barwick – Healing Is A Miracle
Julianna Barwick’s incredible new record Healing Is A Miracle does exactly what it’s title suggests. Now at home at Ninja Tune, Julianna has provided what can only be described as the solace 2020 not only needed, but desperately required. Amongst the doom and gloom of the past few months Julianna provides an exhale of relief. The multi-layered nature of her drone/ambient textures is the kind of hopeful remedy that allows her listener to escape for it’s 33 minute duration and then immediately want to begin again. From the album’s opener ‘inspirit’, which echoes the otherworldly nature of her previous records – collaged with the whirring bass that amounts halfway to form a spectral yet triumphant finale – to the delicate ‘Wishing Well’ which fuses haunting yet powerful vocal layers, gently easing you towards the album’s dynamic finale. Take a step back from 2020 and allow the stunning, choral ambience of Julianna Barwick to consume you.
3. Arca – KiCk i
KiCk i refuses to be defined by one genre, but it’s the album’s consistent layer of pop-inspired elements that creates such an accessible route into Arca’s avant-garde world. Collaborating with the likes of Björk, SOPHIE, Shygirl and ROSALÍA, Arca navigates a range of musical styles while underpinning each track with her signature distorted electronic sounds. Arca’s vocal and lyrical talent plays a much larger role in KiCk i than previous releases, but her voice blends perfectly as another layer in the soundscape, rather than taking centre stage. With KiCk i, Arca is paving the way for the genre-defying future of popular music.
2. bdrmm – Bedroom
Bedroom is a record modelled on growth and environment – evoking the weight of overcoming harrowing challenges and experiences through sound and narrative with gripping constitution. bdrmm have blossomed not only into a group of affecting maturation, but have delivered a record of recognition and redemption – a fulfilling sense of rehabilitation that captures reaching the precipice of your personal mountain and taking a moment to survey what’s been shed along the way, before beginning the descent into the next chapter. bdrmm have poured all of their being into a startling record, a document of identity that is a pure, undiluted example of the great tonic that is sheer expression.
1. SAULT – UNTITLED (Black Is)
Untitled (Black Is) is a timely, powerful soundtrack to the global demand for justice. In true enigmatic form, Sault dropped the album back in June, with it stating their intention “to mark a moment in time where we as Black People, and of Black Origin are fighting for our lives”. Throughout 20 tracks that span from hip hop and funk to afrobeat and gospel, Sault poetically weave impassioned energy with grounding delicacy. On opening track ‘Out the Lies’, choral protest chants of “Revolution has come! Still won’t put down the gun!” are paired with hypnotic, near meditative spoken word: “Black is safety, black is benevolence”. This quickly established dichotomy in narrative is what makes Untitled (Black Is) so consistently captivating – it embraces the raw spirit of resistance whilst celebrating the beauty of black culture, at such an integral point in time.
Listen to Wax’s Albums of The Year – So Far Playlist below:
Words: Amia Watling, Ciara Bains, Connor Gani, Dan E Brown, Dave Sturgess, Kieran Herbert, Reuben Cross, Ross Jones
Feature Photo: Amia Watling